In order to fully understand the issues surrounding opioid prescribing practices, it is important to review a brief history of how these drugs came to market.
RELATED READING: A former opioid addict's story
Opium was the first opioid, derived from the sap of opium poppies whose growth and cultivation dates back to 3400 BC. In the 18th century, physicians in the U.S. used opium for multiple ailments. Toward the end of the 18th century, the addictive qualities of opium became apparent, as well as the need for an alternative.
In 1805, morphine and codeine were isolated from opium, and morphine was subsequently touted as a cure for opium addiction. Morphine’s use increased in popularity as it has about 10 times more euphoric effects than the equivalent amount of opium. As with opium, morphine’s addictive nature became obvious as well as the need for continued research for alternative medications.
Are you starting to see a pattern yet?
Heroin was first synthesized from morphine in 1874 and then made commercially available in 1898 by the Bayer Pharmaceutical Company. Considered a miracle drug, it was used to treat headaches, colds and other common ailments. Heroin, ironically, was given to active morphine and codeine addicts as an alternative to—and as a solution for—their addiction. The unrestricted distribution of heroin led to an astronomical number of addicts and a resulting rising crime rate.
FURTHER READING: What can physicians do to help curb the opioid crisis?
As legal and mental health concerns began to grow throughout the United States, authorities took note and ultimately banned its manufacture and distribution in 1924, just three decades after its introduction.